On Sunday afternoons, I stop in at the used book sale down the street. It's in a church, and features fifty-cent paperbacks and dollar hardcovers.
I wonder if I'll ever run across one of my own books there. Seems likely, since one of the guidebooks is about New Jersey.
A month ago, I saw a book called American Shaolin on the paperback table. I'd never heard of it, and waffled for a minute. Sure, it was probably worth fifty cents, but was it worth carrying home and reading?
Absolutely. It was hilarious and enjoyable. The author—Matthew Polly—spent two years studying kung fu and kickboxing at the Shaolin Center in China. Which is engaging, sure, but he's also a funny writer.
One of my favorite lines was when a leader of the center points out that "America is so wealthy the poor people are fatter than the rich."
The author went to Shaolin in the mid-90s, years before Yancey and I rolled up to the entrance as tourists during MariesWorldTour in 2001. We had booked onto a small group organized trip for a part of China (which turned out to be life-altering when Yancey's assigned roommate was a certain Australian) and when I was paging through my guidebook during our stop in Luoyang, I came across a familiar name.
"Shaolin Temple is 80 km from Luoyang."
I read this to Yancey and our plans were sealed. We were both huge fans of Hong Kong cinema (we're comic book people, after all) and nothing was going to stop us from making a pilgrimage to the home of kung fu.
What we didn't expect was that the entire group would want to go as well. But they did and we all had a long day of watching kung fu and wandering through the Pagoda Forest. All tourism sites in China are packed with Chinese tourists, and Shaolin was no exception, but we still had a great day there.
And a few months later, a group of Shaolin Monks performed in Berlin when I was renting a flat there mid-trip. The smallest boy struck a pose for me on the metro platform.